Cardiovascular illness warning - Your heart could be a ticking bomb

Health experts have encouraged South Africans to know includes blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol levels, glucose and BMI. File image.

Health experts have encouraged South Africans to know includes blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol levels, glucose and BMI. File image.

Published Sep 24, 2023


Johannesburg - In SA, 255 people die of cardiovascular disease every day. But the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA) said the good news is that by making heart-healthy choices, 80% of all heart diseases can be prevented.

As the world gears up for World Heart Day on September 29, CEO at the HSFSA, Professor Pamela Naidoo, said one death from a preventable cardiovascular illness is one too many.

“The stats are quite alarming. Globally, 18 million die annually. We are striving to reduce the number of deaths by educating the public about the causes and preventative measures of cardiovascular disorders. We also do Health Risk Assessments to identify people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high glucose and raised Body Mass Index (BMI),” she said.

Naidoo encouraged all South Africans to know their numbers, and this includes blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol levels, glucose and BMI.

“High blood pressure is a silent killer, and many South Africans walk around daily without knowing that their blood pressures are high. Go annually for a medical examination, especially after the age of 35,” she added.

The foundation added that the war in Ukraine is also having a negative impact on grain supplies. Grain forms a vital part of a balanced diet. The country’s ailing health system also leaves many people more vulnerable.

“Established economies have better health systems and greater food security. They can detect heart disease early,” she said.

Naidoo added that while there are “unmodifiable factors” like family history, gender, genetic coding and age, 70-80% of factors can be prevented by taking on healthy lifestyle measures.

“We need to change our outlook on our lifestyle. Remember, this is for life and not just in the short term. Good habits start as a child and carry through to old age.

We are what we eat. What is included in our diets. Do we eat a diet rich in fatty foods or eat wholesome foods rich in vitamins and nutrients? When changing eating habits, what do we include and exclude? Stay away from ‘fad diets’. Don’t skip meals. Eat your meals from all the food groups, but choose wise portions,” Naidoo advised.

Health experts have encouraged South Africans to know includes blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol levels, glucose and BMI. File image.

The World health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily intake of 5g of salt per day for adults, but in SA, that figure once stood at 8.5g, although in recent times, it has come down to 8g.

Naidoo also warned that issues like heart disease and stroke, at times, do not enjoy the attention they deserve, which can be equally dangerous.

“We live in an unpredictable world. There’s a new challenge every other day, and attention shifts to more pressing matters. It’s up to each person to check their heart health regularly,” she cautioned.

Naidoo added that in SA, only about 30% of the population is on medical aid, which leaves the majority of citizens at the mercy of the public healthcare system.

“I highly recommend that each citizen reduce the intake of saturated fats and stodgy foods like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. Eat more healthy protein sources like Lucky Star Pilchards and salmon, which is rich in Omega 3 and 6, which is needed for cell rejuvenation. Nuts, seeds and legumes are also alternative protein sources. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables(not smothered in sugar and butter). Reduce your salt intake. Use alternative methods of enhancing the taste of your food by using lemon juice, herbs and spices. Drink plenty of water. Know the contents of what you are buying, read labels. The Heart mark on products makes life a bit easier to identify products low in salt and sugar,” she added.

Naidoo lamented the fact that, as a nation, South Africans have become ‘couch potatoes’, and we need to get more active.

“Children need to play more, and hours of television, cellphones and computers need to be restricted. There are many forms of physical activities and not just merely going to the gym. It is recommended that we do physical activities for 150 minutes at least a week or easily 30 minutes a day for five days a week. Find fun activities to do with family and friends, for example, dancing, hiking, gardening, going for a brisk walk.

‘’Remember, this is not just for a short while but for life. Climb stairs instead of using a lift. Set goals and stick with them. Remember, these goals change as you go along. Try something new like cycling, skipping or skating. For the elderly, armchair activities. As long as we are moving, it’s a form of physical activity,” she said.

Naidoo said 75% of the 18 million deaths globally per year happen in low or medium income countries.

“People are scared of the unknown, and the less they know, the less they worry about it, until it's too late to nip the problem in the butt. Some people have a no care attitude or an ‘It can't happen to me’ attitude. Education plays an important role here,” she said.

Symptoms of heart disease can include discomfort in your chest, feelings of nausea, continuous indigestion or stomach pain (females feel this more), pain that spreads to the arm or into the back, you could feel light-headed or dizzy and feeling exhausted easily, and the least bit of exercise is exhausting. Other symptoms include sweating excessively. This is a sure sign of a heart attack and a medical emergency. Legs, feet and ankles are swollen - This is a sign that the heart is not pumping as it should, so you retain fluids. An irregular heartbeat, or ‘your heart beats in your throat’ or your pulse beats very fast, is a sure sign that something’s wrong.

“Remember, these are all warning signs and should be checked out as soon as possible. Don’t put it off until tomorrow, as tomorrow could be too late,” Naidoo concluded.

The Saturday Star